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Design Guidelines Aimed to Protect Sunnyvale Historic District

The City of Sunnyvale is in the process of updating its design guidelines for the Murphy Station Heritage Landmark District. The district is bounded by West Evelyn Avenue, South Sunnyvale Avenue, Washington Avenue and South Frances Street, and bisected by South Murphy Avenue.

In May, City staff conducted a walking tour with members of the Heritage Preservation Committee and Mayor Larry Klein and offered them drafts of the new guidelines to study. The Heritage Preservation Committee is scheduled to make a recommendation to City Council regarding the draft document on July 10, and City Council will consider the item on July 30.

The first set of design guidelines for the district were commissioned by the City in 1980 at a time when many of the historic buildings had undergone low quality renovations and were in poor condition, with the inhabiting businesses struggling to stay afloat. The 1980 Murphy Design Guidelines involved significant streetscape improvements and came with an over $2 million investment by the City for public improvements; the City also offered low interest loans to shop owners for facade upgrades. By 1994 most of the district had been rehabilitated and the guidelines were also updated that year.

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“The first guidelines were back in 1980, which was also the time this became a landmark district,” said Amber Blizinski, Principal Planner. “Back then Murphy was in pretty bad shape, many buildings were boarded up and needed repair and there were also vacant sites. So the guidelines were geared towards new construction.”

Blizinski explained that the 1994 guidelines update was very general in nature due to the fact that most of the necessary improvements had already been made. So in 2016 the Heritage Preservation Committee sponsored a study for another update to the guidelines to represent current needs of the district. In 2016 a Request for Proposals process commenced, and a consultant was chosen to help craft a new document.

“The consultant suggested to do building by building guidelines to decide which features to keep and what to do in the future,” Blizinski said. “It’s unlikely that there will be any new construction unless there’s a fire. There’s not a lot of redevelopment that can happen in this area.”

Due to the relatively small size of the historic district, it was feasible to include guidelines for each building in the document; this guides any exterior modifications, renovations or maintenance for the privately owned properties. A map of the properties is also included in the document. According to Blizinski, the public frontage is considered very well maintained. The final section of the guidelines include standards for any major renovations or new construction if they were to occur.

“This is the part of the city that the community is the most conscientious about preserving,” Blizinski offered. “This is the original Sunnyvale Main Street — all that’s left from that.”

“Murphy is very popular,” she continued. “It’s the most vibrant lunch destination in all of Sunnyvale. Maybe there’s one vacant building. If there’s any vacancy, it doesn’t last long. We want to make sure that we’re sensitive to the fact that this is our historic district. Change can occur but we want to build in the parameters for that change to occur.”

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